USF Researchers Help Hillsborough County School Gardening Programs Plow Ahead

TAMPA, Fla. (Sept. 26, 2008) – Four University of South Florida researchers will lead a workshop to be attended by 30 local elementary and middle school teachers Oct. 4, taking part in the second of two school gardening workshops at the Learning Gate Community School in Lutz, Fla. They will focus on how hands-on learning in an organic vegetable garden can enhance students’ scientific knowledge and skills, nutritional choices, and environmental stewardship.

The USF researchers are the originators of the Tampa Bay School Gardening Network (http://web3.cas.usf.edu/tbsg/). This organization seeks to promote supportive interaction among teachers, students and parents regarding the topic of gardening, and especially organic vegetable gardening in the Tampa Bay area. Workshop guests will include Hillsborough County extension agent Marina D’Abreau, organic farmer and EcoFarm Florida founder John Butts, Jean and Steve Grace from Grace’s Hydroponic Organic Garden Center, Sharon Cutler from Chiles Elementary and three teachers from the Learning Gate Community School. The workshop is open to K-8 teachers from Hillsborough County, space permitting. Please e-mail Laurel Graham at lgraham@cas.usf.edu for enrollment information.

Interest in school gardening has mushroomed across the nation, but Florida schools have lagged behind schools in states like California, where there are plans to create a garden in every school. Rising rates of obesity and Type II Diabetes in younger and younger children have educators and parents scrambling for innovative ways to inspire children to develop a taste for healthful, natural foods like garden vegetables. Research has shown that children who help to grow vegetables are more likely to try eating what they grow, and tasting these vegetables increases their likelihood of preferring these foods over the usual, less healthful food choices pitched to children. Gardening at school also helps to counter the spread of “Nature Deficit Disorder” in which children have little opportunity to observe plants and animals in their natural habitats and to develop a love of nature.

Workshop organizers will share a variety of creative activities that teachers can employ in their own schools to foster students’ understanding of the life sciences and of the human responsibility to the Earth and its species.

The Learning Gate Community School is an environmentally themed charter school serving roughly 450 students in grades K-8. True to the school’s motto – “Nature is Our Best Teacher” – Learning Gate has developed a large organic vegetable garden, a greenhouse, a composting center, and it is working to develop a “Seed-To-Soup” program in which garden produce becomes part of the lunch menu, and cafeteria waste is recycled into compost. This outdoor classroom provides numerous spontaneous opportunities for learning something new. As the school’s principal, Patricia Girard said, “That’s so important for kids to learn, that flow and flexibility, seizing the moments of learning.”

USF researchers have been studying the school’s innovations in order to learn which aspects are most effective and which could have broad applicability for local schools. Their research project and the upcoming workshop are funded through a grant sponsored by the USF Collaborative for Children, Families, and Communities.

For further information, contact Dr. Laurel Graham, USF Department of Sociology, at lgraham@cas.usf.edu.

The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community-engaged, four-year public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded more than $360 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2007/2008. The university offers 219 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The university has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 46,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.

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